The debate between pundits as to whether President Obama would go left or right in a second term is the perfect sort of political debate; Neither side really knows if it is right. And, of course, if Obama loses, no one risks being proven wrong.
I’ve made the case he’d go left; others disagree. (Interestingly, most liberals are saying he’ll go right, and conservatives say the reverse.). And whether he’ll have a compliant or obstructionist Congress is anyone’s guess. Obama perpetuates the mystery by not having any specific second-term agenda to speak of.
But here is the thing: He is telling his supporters he is going to fulfill his original agenda, not tack to the center or work to compromise with conservatives. He likes to tell crowds these days that he needs a second term to finish “what we started.”
Last month he told the faithful in Chicago:
It is time for us to take the money we are no longer spending at war and use half of that to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building here at home. Let’s put people back to work. And we need to make sure that we’ve got a tax system that reflects everybody doing their fair share. . . .
[R]remember what we said in the last campaign, that real change, big change would be hard. It takes time. It may take more than a single term. It may take more than a single President. . . .
And if you’re willing to keep pushing through the obstacles and reach for that vision of America that we all believe in, I promise you change will continue to come. And if you work as hard as you did then, now, I promise you we will finish what we started in 2008, and we will remind the world just why it is that America is the greatest nation on Earth.
He is talking about more and more government. (No matter is too inconsequential or nonessential to demand federal action: “ We get faster Internet to rural Illinois, rural America, so that some store owner or entrepreneur there can suddenly have access to a worldwide marketplace — that’s good for the entire economy.”) He is omitting any mention of debt or entitlement reform. He is tying to convince his side that they will get what they couldn’t the first time. Cap-and-trade, anyone? Expiration of the George W. Bush tax cuts, for certain. Slash defense? Yup.
This puts the president’s supporters in a quandary. If he really is looking to be moderate and play ball with Republicans in a second term, than he is simply lying to his side. If he is telling his side what he really believes, he’s not moderating one bit. What he started in his first term when he had majorities on both houses of Congress was an agenda focused on going after business rhetorically and legislatively, injecting the federal government into many sectors of the economy, putting more Americans on the government rolls (e.g., Medicaid) and getting through as much of the left’s to-do list as possible (e.g., the stimulus). Remember the administration’s watchwords: Never let a crisis go to waste.
Unlike the president’s defenders, I choose to think he’s not lying to his supporters. He wants to get what he couldn’t in his first term. And if that reality has to be fudged or disguised in some way, it is probably because it is not an agenda that is acceptable to the 2012 electorate.